what is the price of a human life?

If my friends are to be believed, doctors occupy the same hated position in China that lawyers occupy in the United States; they are the white-collar workers who represent all that is wrong with the system.

Indeed, the similarities between stereotypes are striking: Chinese doctors are said to be only working for money; if you go to a public doctor, you can expect substandard care, and; the purpose of medicine is to keep you in the system, paying for unnecessary tests and medicines. Good doctors are few; they work against a system that is stacked against them, and the common people suffer for the greed of the majority of bad doctors. Similarly, not a few Americans hold the same ideas, albeit about lawyers. Private attorneys are only in it for the money; if you have a public attorney you can expect to lose your case, and; the purpose of legal advice is to keep you in the system, paying for unnecessary hours and court appearance. Good lawyers are few; they work against a system that is stacked against them, and the common people suffer for the greed of the majority of bad doctors.

Not unsurprisingly, there are all sorts of Chinese doctor shows — both for entertainment and self-help, just as there all sorts of US American lawyer shows and call-in programs. A popular trope in both countries is the renegade who addresses the injustice of the system, dispensing healthcare and legal aid without thought for his or her personal gain. In these shows, lives are at stake and doctors and lawyers save the day in happy endings and loose the day in tragedies. Likewise, an assortment of hacks lurk in these programs and take advantage of unsuspecting or desperate folk, who have nowhere else to turn. Moreover,there is generally an implied moral entitlement: good characters should receive top medical care in China or the very best representation (in the US).

Interestingly, the contempt that common Chinese and ordinary Americans feel for their doctors and lawyers, respectively, is directly related to the fact that (unlike other white-collar workers), doctors and lawyers represent the highest political values in their country. The purpose of government in China, for example, is to provide for the wellbeing of the population. This care includes healthy food, affordable homes, and timely medical care. Indeed, it is remarkable the outrage and press coverage that these three issues consistently generate in the Chinese press, online, and now through weixin (Tencent’s We Chat app).  In the US, we hold our government accountable to protect our rights, both from each other and against corporations. In China, doctors are the last line of defence in securing wellbeing. Likewise, in the US, we turn to lawyers to secure our rights. And yes, those who break the law and get away with it repeatedly show up in the headlines, while taking on the legal system and calls for particular uses there of can turn mere pundits into talk show personalities and ordinary people into national heroes.

Speculation du jour: Chinese doctors and US American lawyers have been cast as villians and heroes in national dramas because neither system is providing the “good life” for its people. In China, wellbeing is the highest value and doctors exist to maintain this wellbeing. In the US, fairness is the highest value and lawyers exist to ensure a level playing field. However, in both countries, those in most need of healthcare or legal aid are most likely not to receive it. Moreover, Chinese doctors often can’t provide adequete healthcare without bankrupting patients, just as UA lawyers can’t provide decent representation without bankrupting clients. In both cases, systemic breakdowns break ordinary lives. Nevertheless, public anger has not (yet) led for widespread calls to change either the Chinese or American systems, but rather nasty jokes about and threats against doctors and lawyers, respectively.